Still a ‘Wild Child’? Cafe Milano at 30

Cafe Milano opened on Nov. 3, 1992. It was Election Day. That night Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd president, and the party never stopped at Milano. And there will be another big one, this Friday.

“Today is Cafe Milano’s 30th anniversary,” said owner Franco Nuschese last week. “I feel like the luckiest man in Washington to have enjoyed three decades of your friendship and support. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

“Cafe Milano is my wild child,” Nuschese told the Georgetowner almost 30 years ago. We were sitting in Bice, a downtown restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, which he was managing in the 1990s, and talking about his new Georgetown venture. Nuschese had worked in London and also had a restaurant in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for a time.

This month, Nuschese and his team — first among them manager Laurent Menoud — are celebrating their enduring and expanding place at 3251 Prospect St. NW, which was once a Bread & Chocolate. (There is another Cafe Milano in Abu Dhabi at the Four Seasons.)

By now, you know that the biggest celebrities, the people of Washington, of the town, all eventually show up and off at Cafe Milano — and are part of the show.

“It’s controlled chaos, and we know exactly what is happening,” explains Menoud, do-it-all, know-it-all maitre d’ of nearly 30 years. “As soon as you enter, we provide an experience. You can forget … and destress. It has to be fun — the music, the lighting, the guests. There’s a thinking behind it … and attention to detail.” On a busy night, he adds that the restaurant will have 60 persons on staff.

That’s it? No big secret? “Good food, good products and great service  — we take care of people with personalized service,” Menoud says. “You’re at home … on safe ground. Of course, people want the best table.” He knows which name goes with which table and what they like to eat — and wields an impressive mental rolodex.

And, yes, he could share quite some stories — but he won’t — and so can a lot of us.

Still, for Menoud, while there are other competing neighborhoods for Georgetown, he says Cafe Milano remains quite busy and a destination — as one of those symbols for Washington, D.C., the power city in America. Elsewhere, he says he does like spots like le Diplomate and Bourbon Steak.

Beyond the restaurant, Menoud says, “My job is to know people and read the news — from politicians to real estate agents” and neighbors.

As for that “wild child,” it’s well past its teenage years at the turn of the century, now into its adulthood, says Menoud, who is always working and always discreet.

So, it’s been 30 years, and for Nuschese and Menoud “like a marriage, a partnership, that’s been a great experience,” the maitre d’ allows. “Franco is very generous.”

Their catch phrase remains: “Everyone gets along at Milano.”

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that both Nuschese and Menoud hail from places described as being between heaven and earth: the Amalfi Coast of Italy and Annecy in the French Alps. Such blissful origins must surely be part of their charm and success — and of that special restaurant that has lasted 30 years on Prospect Street in Georgetown.


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